The Importance of Learning to Listen

In February 2020, High school Junior Gracie traveled to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall with Honors Performance Series. As part of her program coursework, she tells us about the importance of truly listening.

I live in a place where it’s pretty cold for most of the year, so spring has finally arrived a week or two ago and it’s the end of May. The first thing that I heard when I went outside today was the sounds of birds chirping, which means that we finally have a species other than crows that have returned to live with us for the summer. There aren’t as many people driving around the neighborhood now because of social distancing, so I didn’t hear many cars, but it is a fairly nice day today and I saw my neighbors outside playing with their dog. I could hear them chatting and laughing while my dad and I walked outside. There was a slight breeze today (instead of a fierce wind on normal days) so I could hear wind chimes in many of my neighbors’ windows. It was a nice experience to get to go outside and see and hear so many people spending more time with their family and loved ones and to spend more time with my dad.

I listened to a few of my favorite songs from Hamilton again, and there are some in that soundtrack (“Blow Us All Away,” “The World Was Wide Enough”) that make me emotional every time. There are so many motifs in this musical that are repeated or varied to create deeper emotional levels to the songs, and every time I listen to the soundtrack, I notice more of them. Some of the lyrics also take on new meanings after having already finished listening and going back to listen to some of the songs again, such as Alexander Hamilton’s interactions with Lafayette at the beginning of the musical and with Thomas Jefferson later in the musical – the Frenchman in America and the American in France. There are also some musical aspects that I hadn’t noticed before listening to it a few times through, such as the solo harp melody that repeated in “Say No to This” and “Burn.”

Learning to “listen” can positively affect a person in everyday life because listening to music can carry over to listening to other things as well – specifically other people: loved ones, teachers, and more. Listening to music requires a person to critically analyze what they are hearing and form meaning from it. Listening to the opinions and beliefs of the people in your life is essential in maintaining close and functional relationships, and feeling as though one’s opinions are truly understood by another person can be life-changing. Listening closely to a teacher helps to make sure that you fully understand the content that is being taught and are able to be successful in your studies.

Listening is, of course, vital to any musician in learning from recordings, performances, teachers, and especially listening to yourself in practice. Learning from great performers by truly listening to their recordings or live performances can be inspiring and educational at the same time, and hearing other people interpret the same pieces of music in different ways can really open up one’s mind. Listening to advice and corrections from teachers is very important in growing as a musician during your studies, and practice without listening to what is coming out of your instrument is just as ineffective as not practicing at all.  

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